Friday, April 30, 2021

Cryptid Corner: The Owlman of Mawnan

 For thousands of years, people have been recording sightings of mysterious creatures. Some of these critters may be survivors of a bygone age or even species yet to be properly discovered and named. Others are just mind-bogglingly weird, unexplainable or flat out terrifying like the subject of this blog post.
America has the Mothman. We have...THE OWLMAN OF MAWNAN.

The Story
The beast stood like a man and was as tall as one too, with dark feathers, sharp talons, glowing red eyes and a gaping maw of a mouth. Its appearances were accompanied by spine-tingling hissing and screaming noises, as well as loud hoots while it soared through the sky. While it sounds like a monster from a bad B movie, this potential cryptid caused quite a stir when it was first sighted. 
It was spotted in April 1976 by June and Vicky Melling, who were on holiday in the area with their parents. The two children were exploring on their own and decided to investigate Mawnan Church. As they approached they started to hear weird noises and, looking up, spotted a huge creature flying around the steeple. It appeared to be half-man half-bird, with dark feathers and fearsome glowing red eyes. Terrified, they ran back to the campsite to tell their parents, who were so unnerved by this story that they called off the holiday, going home three days early. The girls' father, Don, would later approach Tony "Doc" Shiels, a local paranormal researcher and magician. While Don was unwilling to allow Shiels to interview the girls, he was eager to share their story and a picture drawn by June. Fascinated by the tale, Shiels would investigate the sighting. The story would be included in a small pamphlet written by Anthony Mawnan-Peller, which was mostly sold locally and was titled Morgawr: The Monster of Falmouth Bay.
The next sighting happened in the July of the same year. Two teens, Barbara Perry and Sally Chapman, were camping in the area and had the shock of their lives when they encountered the creature. It was the eerie hissing noises that drew their attention to the Owlman, which stood not too far from their campsite and was apparently unimpressed by their presence there. Probably because they were laughing at it; Barbara and Sally were aware of the Owlman story and were convinced it was someone in a costume until it took off into the air with a hiss and a screech, flying off over the woods. The shocked girls huddled in their tent for safety and reported what they'd seen the following morning. What they described was near identical to what June and Vicky had seen, but with the addition of pincer-like talons. Like Don Melling, they would go to Tony Shiels with their story.
Sightings have continued over the years, in 1978, 1989, 1995, the 2000s and the most recent sighting was in 2019, by a couple of paranormal investigators.
The Owlman isn't the only thing haunting the location, as there have been quite a few reports of glowing orbs being sighted around the churchyard. Whether these are corpse lights or spirits remains to be seen.

 Mawnan Church - Photo by Tim Green.
CC BY 2.0

The Theories

The Paranormal
It's been suggested that the Owlman is a creature linked to the occult rather than some kind of naturally occurring entity. Some have pointed fingers at artist Max Ernst, who visited the area in the 1930s with a small group of friends and performed summoning rituals there. One of the things allegedly summoned was said to be part nightjar, part human. While there's no real evidence of this creature, Ernst would become fascinated with birds, to the point that his own artistic alter ego was a humanoid bird named Loplop, and it has been said (though not by Ernst.) that these are linked to the Owlman. This fascination with bird creatures would be shared by artist Leonora Carrington, who was dating Ernst at the time of his visit to Mawnan and was believed to be one of the party members there with him. Her works have also included dark bird-like figures, though not as much as Ernsts. Curiously though, by some strange coincidence, the first 1976 Owlman sighting took place around two weeks after the death of Max Ernst. Many people believe that this and Ernst and Carrington's avian fascination are proof that they summoned the Owlman. Whether or not there is a link, the two artists remain synonymous with the Owlman, even after their deaths.
Other theories have suggested that the Church and its grounds lay directly over a leyline. These mysterious and fascinating energy lines have been linked to many hauntings and creature sightings over the years, so if this is true then it's no surprise that paranormal events have occurred there. Another popular paranormal theory is that the creature is of extraterrestrial origins, as Cornwall was a hotspot for UFO sightings throughout the 1970s.

The Hoax
This theory claims that it was all faked by Tony "Doc" Shiels. But with so many people involved, this theory can't be proven. It seems to be based on the fact that he was the only one investigating the sightings at the time. While he may have known some of the witnesses, there's no way he knew all of them, as some were tourists from outside of the UK. Thanks to the pamphlet that was published, anyone living in or visiting the area could have read the story and claimed that they had seen the creature. Take Barbara and Sally, for example. Both of the girls are known to have read about the Owlman. With this in mind and the common knowledge that if you saw something then Shiels was the man to go to, then surely any potential false claims lay with the witnesses, not the investigator.

The Mistaken Identity
It could have been an owl. To be exact, a Eurasian Eagle Owl. 
These birds aren't native to the UK and are one of the largest owl species out there. With a wingspan of 6ft (7ft in some rare cases.), an owl of this breed would look massive while airborne.  They also make a lot of different noises, including hisses, screeches and hoots. Sound familiar? The only difference is that they don't have glowing red eyes, gaping holes where their mouths should be and aren't as tall as a man. However, if seen by those unfamiliar with them or at dusk, it's possible that the eyes could be deceived. It's been theorised that the Owlman was nothing more than an escaped pet, perhaps looking for a place to roost, which would explain why it was so interested in the steeple of the church.

So is the story of Cornwall's Owlman over? Very probably not, but only time will tell when, or if, it will be seen again. Thankfully, if this beast is seen, it isn't a sign of ill omen, unlike its moth-like counterpart in West Virginia. The Mothman seems to have been the herald of disaster. The Owlman is just a jerk who likes scaring people. 
But does it exist? Bird/Human hybrids are common in folklore and appear worldwide in myths, legends and even religious beliefs. It's no surprise that one should appear in the UK. As someone who loves a good folktale or urban legend, I'd love to think it exists, but the sceptic in me wants more proof before I believe in it. What about you, dear readers? What's your opinion on the Owlman of Mawnan? Fact or fiction? Let me know in the comments below, or tag me in a Tweet!

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